Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for March 12, 2021 is:

williwaw • WILL-ih-waw  • noun

1 a : a sudden violent gust of cold land air common along mountainous coasts of high latitudes

b : a sudden violent wind

2 : a violent commotion


“Following a short morning landing at a place called Cape San Isidro—where, due to gusts and williwaws, we were restricted to one of those unremarkable cruise excursions that involve several dozen people walking aimlessly around a beach—we sailed west.” — Chris Moss, The Daily Telegraph (London), 1 Dec. 2020

“The area is famous for williwaws. In severe weather these katabatic winds have been recorded to locally exceed 130 knots.” — Michael van Bregt, Yachting World, July 2020

Did you know?

In 1900, Captain Joshua Slocum described williwaws as “compressed gales of wind … that Boreas handed down over the hills in chunks.” To unsuspecting sailors or pilots, such winds might seem to come out of nowhere—just like word williwaw did centuries ago. All anyone knows about the origin of the word is that it was first used by 19th-century writers to name fierce winds in the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. The writers were British, and indications are that they may have learned the word from British sailors and seal hunters. Where these sailors and hunters got the word, we cannot say.

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